Vienna: Days 6 and 7

21 Aug

Finally the weekend which means no need to get up early for school. However, the intensive German learning continued because we spoke for the whole weekend in the most part in German.

In my last post I was hoping for rain because the whole city was so warm and it needed to cool down. In true British fashion I will complain about the one thing that I was hoping for. It rained too much!

We left the apartment and it was already raining but only small showers. I had read in the free newspaper that there was an Oldtimers event near the Town Hall so we headed there. Just to be clear: there is a difference in what German speakers mean by an “Oldtimer” and what English speakers mean. In this case, I mean vintage car and not old people. My boyfriend is interested in vintage cars, especially British ones.

By the time we came out of the underground, it was lashing it down. I only had a rain jacket which turns out isn’t waterproof. We couldn’t find the event anywhere. Either it was cancelled because of the weather or we had gone to the wrong place. We then went hunting to find an umbrella so that I wouldn’t continue to get soaking wet through. By then I was pretty miserable so my boyfriend suggested that we go to the Sacher Hotel to try some of its world famous Sachertorte.

I was glad that we went, not just because I had an opportunity to dry off a bit, but also because the Sachertorte was delicious. The recipe was created in 1832 and the original recipe is still being used today. The actual price is relatively expensive but as it was a special treat and the surroundings were nice, it was nice.

I was slightly taken aback by the customer service. The waiter was not friendly when we arrived. All of the tables were taken and we were told “I don’t have any tables”. There was no sorry, or if you don’t mind waiting, we will seat you as soon as we can. I believe that this is just how Austrians are. They are known for being very direct with a little bit of arrogance on the side.

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It was incredible the number of people who were queuing outside the hotel to come in a try a piece of cake. I have no idea how many slices they sell a day there but they definitely make a tidy profit from it.

After that we joined a free walking tour. To make it a bit more difficult for me, we joined the tour in German. This is the first time that I had done a walking tour in a language other than English. I could understand most of what was said but at time it was difficult to understand what the tour guide was saying because the rain was beating down on the umbrellas. Even so it was good to learn some more about Vienna, the Habsburgs and the history.

In the evening despite the rain (and my protesting), we went running. Rather than go to the castle and back we found another route that was a bit flatter. I enjoying running in the rain a lot more than running when it is warm. I managed 9km but in the end I was a bit disappointed because I know that I could have run further. Anyway, 9km is better than nothing.

On Sunday we took a trip to Petronell Carnuntum. I had heard about this place from a student at the school. It is a Roman city about 45km away from Vienna. It was founded in the time of Emperor Tiberus and a significant military camp during the Roman Empire and it even had its own gladiator school. Some of the excavated wares were in unbelievably good condition. Even though the site is one of the most important sites in Central Europe, only 0.5% of the site has been excavated.

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The city is made up of 3 sites. One has a replica of a Roman villa that visitors can walk around, there is an amphitheatre which has a small exhibition and a museum. All of the sites are not together so we had to walk about 5km in total to visit them all. It was definitely worth it, especially as the entrance fees was good value to visit all the sites.

We had to be back in Vienna for 6pm because we had a table booked at Figlmüller. Figlmüller is home of the most famous schnitznel in Vienna. The Schnitznel is so big that it doesn’t fit on the plate. It was a good job that we booked in advance because the staff were turning away people every 5 minutes. It is so well-known that the tables are booked out weeks in advance. I love my food and I loved that schnitzel.

When we came to pay the bill the waiter asked me if I was American. I was wearing a Harvard T-Shirt so it was a good assumption. His second guess was Swiss. His third guess was Canadian. I told him in the end. He said that I had a little bit of a Swiss accent, which I have heard several times during my time here. I’m not sure what to make of that. I am pleased that people cannot guess my nationality from my accent because it means that I am not just saying German words in an English accent.

After eating a schnitznel the size of a plate it was time to go slowly home and spend the rest of the evening asking the eternal question: Why does the weekend always go so quickly?

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Vienna: Days 4 and 5

18 Aug

The past few days I have been in the school for the morning and in the afternoon explored the city a bit.

Although the themes in the class haven’t been anything more advanced a few topics have come up that I needed some extra practice on anyway.

In one of the classes someone asked if we come watch the German film Die Welle (The Wave). I had never heard of the film before but it was based on a real experiment that happened at an American school. The basic premise is that a teacher tries to prove to the students that, despite all the lessons that we think we have learnt about fascism, there is still a real danger that a dictatorship could once again happen in the western world.

Of course, the students all think that this couldn’t possibly happen but before they know it they are beginning to give the teacher (who assumes the role of the Dictator) the status of an idol and do whatever he says without questioning him. It soon turns into destruction and death.

Apparently the real experiment happened over 3 or 4 months and not a week like the film depicts and there was a bit of destruction but no death.

It’s an interesting topic to think about anyway but perhaps more so when I think about our friends over the Atlantic and the similarities that have been drawn between Trump and other famous dictators.

There is also a book of the same name which I will try to read in German, even though I much prefer to read the book before the film.

On Thursday afternoon we walked around the city. The city isn’t so big and it’s easy to work out all the different routes and shortcuts. I’m still really impressed with how beautiful the city is. The building are so elegant and the white marble against the backdrop of an electric blue sky with no clouds makes it even more impressive-looking.

The heat in the city is incredible at the moment and it was uncomfortable to walk around so much so we came back to the apartment to read and try to cool down. In the evening we ran to Schloss Schönbrunn again. We went a bit further than on Tuesday and it felt a lot better as well.

On Friday we had lunch at the apartment and walked to Schloss Schönbrunn. When we have run there, the grounds were already closed so we couldn’t have a look round.

The grounds surrounding the building are huge and it must take a lot of people a lot of time to keep the grounds looking so nice. It was a nice afternoon so lots of people and children were milling about.

In the picture you can see Schloss Schönbrunn and the surrounding area. Wandering around the grounds you would never realise that you were so near to a large city. You can barely hear any traffic noise. You could be anywhere.

The temperature is still in the 30s so it will be a hot evening tonight. Lucky (and only a Brit could say this) tomorrow it will rain! Yes! It needs to cool down a bit, especially as I have promised to go for a 10k run with my training partner/boyfriend tomorrow.

Vienna: Day 2 and 3

16 Aug

Day 2 in Vienna turned out to be a little unexpected. It turns out it is a public holiday here which meant I didn’t have to go into school. The holiday is to celebrate the Assumption of Mary, a holiday that is not celebrated in England not in Zurich (because it is not a catholic canton) but is in other parts of Switzerland.

As the weather was nice we went to the city and had a wander around. The city is different to what I expected. Firstly, there are so many tourists that it is hard to look at things or walk around without finding yourself inadvertently appearing in someone’s holiday snap. Secondly, the architecture is amazing. I am not sure if all of the buildings are original but they are magificent to look at.

The weather was around 32 degrees which was a bit hot for me so it was important that I kept drinking something. After a look around the city centre, we took the underground to Prater. I had never heard of Prater before but it is a large fun fair just outside of the city. Considering it was a public holiday it wasn’t overcrowded and it was nice to have a wander around and see what rides they had.

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Later we went to Donauinsel which is an “island” on the Danube. It was really cool there were lots of wide-open spaces for running, walking, roller skating and biking as well as places to bathe along the river and places to have a drink and something to eat. It still amazes me that countries have these facilities – it would never work in England. Ok, perhaps it would for one day when the weather is nice. The rest of the time it would be deserted and the deck chairs would have found legs and moved off to someone’s back garden.

In the afternoon, we came back to the apartment to go some work. I started to read a German book. I chose this booked because the chapters are no so long so you can just dip in and out of the book. Also, the story is made up of smaller stories belonging to different characters so you find out bits of information as you go along. I was surprised that I didn’t have to look up so many words and a lot of the book I was able to read without much difficulty.

We realised that Schönbrunn Castle is only about a mile and a half away so in the evening we jogged there and back. I say jogged but I was almost crawling at the end. It was a bit deceptive because at the start it was downhill but back it was uphill. I am used to running on completely flat surfaces, although I know that running uphill will get you a lot fitted than running on the flat. The run actually took it out of me. I haven’t run for around 10 days and I could still feel that I wasn’t 100% fit after my illness before I came to Vienna. But I managed it. Onwards and upwards!

Today (Wednesday) I was back in school and I was ready to complain. I explained that I wasn’t happy with the level that I had been placed at and I wanted to go into another group. I was just told that I would need to take the test that I had already taken again and see if I did better. I didn’t want to do this because I have a certificate that demostrates that I have already completed this level and at a high standard. Plus there is nothing from stopped them from not remarking the test and staying at the same class that I was in. At this point in the day I was thinking about asking to change to private lessons but I knew that this would mean a lot fewer lessons and would mean that I end up not interacting and speaking with many people throughout the day. This is definitely not the point of taking a holiday to come here and improve my German.

I went to the lessons while I was thinking about what to do. In the second lesson, the teacher ask me how I was finding the group. So I told her. I actually learnt a lot in her lessons (she takes the conversation group) so we learn a lot of new words and can speak a bit freer. I told her I had already spoken about my misgivings and she said that she could give me additional tasks to do while in her lessons. Thank goodness someone else has recognised that I shouldn’t really be in this group! She also asked what specifically I wanted to work on and she will bring me some things to do that I can do additionally.

For the moment I have decided to stay doing what I am doing and I can do the additional things as well. If I drop out of the course and take private lessons instead I will just isolate myself and not interact. I have been a bit unlucky with this happening to me for the second time. Luckily, my boyfriend is here to help me a bit outside of school. For this I don’t have to pay anything… at least I hope not!

In the afternoon we had a nice traditional Viennese lunch of Knödelsuppe (dumpling soup), Knödel und Eier (meat dumplings and egg) and a Viennese beer.

We also went to find Hundertwasser Haus. Friedensreich Hundertwasser is a very famous Austria artist who died in 2000. Until recently, I hadn’t heard of him. I was introduced to him when my German teacher in Switzerland gave me a copy of one of his pictures and asked me to describe it as part of an exercise. I really like his work. The Hundertwasser Haus is a house that he designed in a unique style. The outside is very colourful and I was surprise by how many people were there. The strange thing is that the house is actually inhabited by real people so you can’t go inside. It must be strange to live there and have so many tourists outside looking in. His art is in the nearby Kunst Haus Wien. By then it was getting late so it wasn’t worth paying to go inside. I will do it another day before I go home.

And just like that the day is almost over. Time for a bit of homework, a bit of relaxing. Then it is already Thursday.

Vienna, Day 1

14 Aug

When the alarm went off this morning, it was time to go back to school. The school is about 30 minutes away from where I am staying so I wanted to be there a bit earlier in case there were any delays. One of the problems of living in Switzerland is that you get used to everything running perfectly on time. So when you go somewhere else it is a bit of a shock when the train does not arrive at 12.32 exactly.

The school was easy enough to find. I bought a weekly ticket for the transport which is just over 16 EUR, which is pretty good value for money.

When the school said that we should be there early to have a speaking assessment, I thought that there would be able 6 to 10 of us lined up waiting. It turns out there was about 60 or more. It was crammed with people. After filling out a form (even though I had already done this at least twice for the school), I had an oral test to find out which level my German was. This was in addition to a 60 minute test I had already submitted online. I realised that this exercise was largely pointless because they had already divided students into groups.

As happened in Munich, I don’t think that I was put into the right group for my ability and level. I was willing to stick it out for a day and see how it went. The first hour and a half was a lesson focusing on grammar. I had already done the exercises to death but I did learn a few things and one or two things were a lot clearer. It was clear that some of the other students were less confident in their abilities. I really am not the most confident of people when it comes to my German ability but I can at least read something out loud with a certain degree of confidence. I have worked hard at this over the past months in my lessons in Switzerland.

The second one and a half hours was with a more motivated teacher and the focus was on conversation. The whole lesson was spent talking about emotions and different words to describe them. This was really useful. I have a huge list of new words to use and it was a good way to increase my vocabulary.

As I had joined for an intensive course, I then had a small break before another one and a half hours with another teacher. I thought that this hour and a half would be another lesson with a structure of what we were going to study. It turns out that it is more of a lesson to recap what we have done in the morning and we were expected to come with topics that we were not sure about. In fairness, I can do this on my own in my own time, rather than paying for it. It was nice to meet with other people and be able to practice speaking a bit but overall I didn’t really think it was worth it.

Overall, I was a bit disappointed. The exercises were not as challenging as I wanted or need. I have decided to go to the school and air my views and ask if I can be moved to another group. It doesn’t make sense if I don’t learn as much as I could and these two weeks are holiday time that I have taken off work. I need to make sure that my time and learning is maximised. And I love complaining in any language. Let’s see what happens.

By the time I had finished school it was already 2pm. I came home, went shopping and then made my way to the train station to pick up my boyfriend who was arriving to come and stay for a week. With him being here I definitely feel as though I am on an intensive German course. I think I have only said five sentences in English today. At this rate I might start forgetting how to speak English.

Bratislava, Slovakia

13 Aug

After arriving safely in Vienna, Austria, I took the bus to Bratislava. The journey is only about an hour and I arrived at my final destination at around 8 in the evening. My hotel was a short walk from the bus station which I was happy about. I wasn’t happy 5 minutes later when the heavens opened and a huge storm hit. The rain was coming down sideways. I had to take cover under a tree until it eased off a bit.

The hotel was lovely and in a really quiet part of town. I was especially pleased to see that I had paid online a lot less (almost half price) of what I would have paid for the room if I had gone directly to the hotel. This isn’t always the case when you book through a third party but this time it worked in my favour.

On Saturday I went out early because I wanted to go on a Free Walking Tour. This one was a tour of the Old Town and the Castle. The tour was well-attended and the tour guide was a local. It was a very interesting and a good way to see the city for the first time.

I was surprised that there was no entrance fee to get into the castle. When I was in Prague I had to pay an entrance fee to get to the castle and when we were in Edinburgh it was about 25 pounds each for entrance to the castle and so we decided not to do it. I think that Bratislava might be missing a trick here.

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The view from the castle was impressive. It was possible to see not only the whole of the city but also neighbouring Hungary and Austria. This is a strange concept for someone who grew up on an island to get their head around. It was interesting to learn about the history of Slovakia and how it used to be a very important place during the time of Royal Hungary. It was the place where Kings and Queens received their coronations.

I was surprised to hear that nicest parts of the city were pulled down during the communist era as more importance was placed on the beauty of Prague, Czech Republic which was then unified with Slovakia. Bratislava was thought of as more of the industrial part of the country so some horrible buildings were erected and some beautiful ones destroyed.

I find it fascinating that countries that are so near to us were ruled by communism for so long and during our lifetime. I have never been able to get my head around why people subscribed to it as an ideology when it is so clear that not all people are the same. The guide explained that there are a lot of older people who say that life was better under communist rule. I can understand that going from full employment, not having to pay for health and education and not needing to save from retirement would have its plus sides. I can imagine how these people feel with no savings to fall back on and not being able to make a living after communism fell.

In the afternoon there was a Communism Tour which I was interested in going on but in the end I decided not to do it. I think 2.5 hours about communism would be a bit too much. Instead I went on another free tour which talked more about the history of the city, the politics and the future of the country. It was good to be able to learn something about a place that I had not been to before and knew so little about.

On the whole the city was really charming and beautiful so I can’t imagine how nice it used to be. By the afternoon the city was full with tourists and hen and stag dos, which is not so nice. Luckily, by then I had seen the city in its best light.

One of the best things about Slovakia has to be the food. I was recommended to try the traditional Slovak potato dumplings with sheep’s cheese. I was a bit sceptical and the dish didn’t look so appetising but it tasted really good. They also had a creamy garlic soup which comes in a hollowed out bread cob. You eat the soup and then you eat the bowl. This was also delicious and it saved on the washing up! Saving the planet: one garlic soup at a time!

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On Sunday it was time to pack up and make my way back to Vienna on the bus, after wandering around the city for one last time in the morning.

I had to wait until 4pm to get into the apartment that I had booked. I wandered around the city centre for a while but it wasn’t so comfortable with my backpack. There were so many tourists though. It was hard to look at anything without getting in the way of someone photo. I have plenty of time to explore so I wasn’t so bothered. I will go back when there are less people.

I made it to the apartment. It is quite a way from the centre but it is quiet but well connected to the centre. The apartment is a studio and has cooking and washing facilities so it means I can save a bit of money on food and eating.

Sunday was perhaps not the best day to arrive. Like Switzerland, there are no shops open in Austria on a Sunday. I was desparate to find some milk somewhere because I hadn’t had a brew in ages. I walked to a train station that is about 15 minutes away. I finally found the “supermarket”. It was a tiny little thing in the corner of the station and it was so busy that there was a guard at the entrance to the shop limiting the number of people who were in there at one time! I got my milk and got the hell out as soon as I could. It was like living in the Communist era again!

Back home and with my tea, I am gearing myself up for going back to school tomorrow. Wish me luck!

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On the Road again

11 Aug

Today I set off to improve my German for two weeks with a holiday/German lessons in Vienna. I have never been to Vienna before but people have told me it is a great place so I am looking forward to it.

Of course, for a normal person two weeks away in one country would be more than enough. I am not normal. I fly to Vienna and then I take a bus to spend two nights in Bratislava, the Slovakian capital. The bus only cost 5 Euros and it takes an hour so I thought it was a good opportunity to explore another country, especially as the German course does not start until Monday.

I don’t know a lot about Slovakia but I am looking forward to trying the food and exploring!

If you have been reading my blog for some time you will know that in January I went to an extremely cold Munich for a week to learn German. Although my intentions were good, it didn’t work out as I had planned. The school did not have a group who were the same level as me so I was forced to change from group lessons to individual lessons. This wasn’t the aim of my week there because I would happily chat with the teacher for 1.5 hours and then I was in the city alone. The idea was to meet fellow students in the school and be able to go for coffee and so on with people and be able to practice my German with people.

The school in Vienna seems a lot more rigid and, although they haven’t 100% confirmed it, I get the strong impression that they have the level that I am currently studying. What is a bit strange and is concerning me a little is that they haven’t accepted my B2 certificate as an indication of my level, even though I only took the exam last month. They have made me take a test which lasted more than an hour long to put me in the correct group and when I arrive on Monday I need to have an oral test to doubly confirm what group I should go in.

Although it is thorough and I am confident that they know what they are doing, I am a bit nervous that I do not yet know when my lessons will be. How well or badly you do depends on whether your lessons take place in the morning or in the afternoon. I just want to do enough that I can have the lessons in the morning because that is so much better and it is when I can focus the most. A lesson in the afternoon means that there is much more of a temptation to laze in bed in the morning and then my productivity will suffer.

As I have learnt from last time, I have also packed some exercises, vocab lists etc so if I am not placed in the right group I at least have some additional work to do.

I am sure that the rest of the time will be filled with sightseeing and more local food sampling!

My boyfriend is also coming for a week to spend some time with me. In my post from yesterday I mentioned that we will be running a half marathon at the start of October. He will be about an hour or more faster than me! By chance he has found a 10k run to take part in while we are in Vienna. So the training really will be getting a kick start them. I would complain but in the evening we will be going to a restaurant to eat a huge schnitzel. So in the end it will be worth it.

As I did last time with my German learning experience, I will be taking my laptop and blogging all the way. Check back soon to see how I am getting on.

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Training hard again

10 Aug

At the start of October I will be running a half marathon for the first time in a long time. I was partly strongly encouraged to do it because my boyfriend is also taking part and it was partly my own decision because I desperately need a fitness goal to motivate me.

In 2012, I was in the shape of my life. I ran a marathon (not very fast but I did it nonetheless) after getting quite heavily into running. Since then running and the whole topic of fitness has dropped off my agenda, although it shouldn’t have because I felt so much better back then.

The hardest thing for me is not the running itself; it is the getting out of the door in the first place. It always seems like a pain to go running. I need to get changed, think of where I want to run and then get out of the door etc etc. The actual running I enjoy. I’m outside and feel pretty good. I don’t even mind if it is raining. A run in the cold, wet rain means a long, hot shower is waiting at home.

Of course, the road to a half marathon does not run smooth. Training was going relatively well. I was managing a long run at least once a week and was being sensible about increasing it a bit each week. I was even doing a bit of cross-training by getting back on my bike for the first time and cycling about 20km.

On Monday it went downhill when I started with a bad cold/sore throat/cough. I have been completely wiped out by it. I wanted to at least try to go for a short run but my body was telling me that this was not going to happen.

So instead of long runs in the countryside I have been lounging on the sofa feeling sorry for myself and trying every home remedy known to mankind.

I am finally beginning to feel better. I managed to leave the house this evening and go for an hour long walk. I was in need of some fresh air. Fingers crossed I can resume training in the next few days. There is still 6 or 7 weeks left for training which should be enough. If I stay disciplined and get myself out of the front door regularly- And that is a big if!

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